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Young to retire from JEDC

Larry Young, executive director of the Joint Economic Development Commission, looks to the future of the organization and to retirement. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

The Joint Economic Development Commission will take a new direction in 2011.

Larry Young, the organization's only executive director, will retire at the end of the year. Young said the board of directors is meeting to decide the future of the commission.

"Certainly, things are a little different than when we started 25 years ago," Young said.

He said the JEDC originated as an intervention organization when Magnetic Peripherals Inc., a subsidiary of Control Data Corp., pulled out of Bemidji to relocate in China, resulting in the loss of 400 jobs overnight.

"So, my first job was trying to find a replacement company," Young said. "Trying to bring back jobs we'd lost, kind of a time of crisis."

The answer was Digigraphics Systems Inc., which evolved into Nortech Systems, Inc., with $350,000 seed capital provided by the business community and $48,000 from Control Data.

Young said the board is looking at his retirement as an opportunity to possibly reconfigure the role of the JEDC.

"We're probably still a little of the way from knowing how it's going to be put together," he said.

Some successes Young recalls include the renovation of the downtown with the design work of the late Dick Rose.

"You can't imagine Bemidji now without trees and benches," Young said. "It was pretty bleak."

The JEDC also has established the revolving Seed Capital Fund Loan Program, which has invested more than $3.2 million in local and Beltrami County non-retail businesses. In addition to Nortech, beneficiaries of the loan program include Itasca Bemidji, Inc., Optical Solutions, Inc., Anderson Fabrics, Core Craft, Synergy Solutions, Black Star Dairy and EXB Solutions. And when the JEDC started the Forestry Affairs Council in 2002, Young took on duties as administrative head of that organization.

"I've met a lot of interesting people over the years," he said.

In retirement, Young said he and his wife, Sue, will spend time traveling, especially to visit their grown children, Lisa and Andy, and their families on the West Coast. He said he will continue with his musical group, Ruby Tuesday, "more for the jamming than the performance," and extend his genealogical research. So far, he said he has traced his family back to the year 800 and visited an ancestor's 1790 log home - now the core of a Tara-like mansion - in Kentucky. He also has found that he descends from a 14-year-old drummer boy who served with Gen. George Washington in the Revolutionary War. He was able to follow the soldier throughout the war up to the decisive 1781 Battle of Yorktown when Gen. Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the Americans.

Young began his professional career in Bemidji in 1968 as a teacher in the Bemidji State University Department of Geography. He said he plans to continue teaching at BSU as an adjunct professor when he retires from the JEDC.

The city of Bemidji hired him in 1975 as the first city planner, which morphed into the job of director of community development. During his 10-plus years in that position, Young oversaw the development of the Paul Bunyan Mall, downtown revitalization and Union Square projects, all funded in part by $9 million in state and federal grants. He also wrote grants to help the development of the Bemidji Industrial Park, Bemidji Regional Airport and the new well field on the west side of town. He also authored the city's first parks and recreation plan and served as city liaison to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority. He was appointed the city's first affirmative action officer and wrote the original Affirmative Action Plan. He also wrote the city's first subdivision ordinance and was responsible for enforcing the city's airport and land use and shoreline zoning codes.

In 1994, in addition to his work as JEDC executive director, Young became administrative director of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and oversaw the relocation of the Chamber operation and demolition of the old Chamber building. When the new Tourist Information Center was completed in 1975, Young was in charge of the building's operation and maintenance. In 1980, after five years, Young requested to return full-time as JEDC executive director.

Young gave credit for the progress Bemidji has made during his tenure to the professionalism and forward thinking of the JEDC board members. He also said his success is due in large part to the support of his wife.